The other day a student was upset at us over what he thought was a glaring error in his records. In his rant, he pulled out a very disparaging comment about our office, which he claimed came from the President of our institution.
As you can imagine, that shook up the two ladies who took the brunt of his verbal barrage. Afterwards, they came to me quite upset about the whole thing. They couldn’t believe the President would say such a thing, but the student was in a leadership position and the whole thing WAS at least plausible.
What does one do in the face of such a situation? I offered comfort and support, of course. But inside I was disappointed. Mostly I was disappointed in myself because I realized immediately that I had made a grievous error.
What did I do?
I sat on the experience for several days. I sometimes do this when a situation isn’t urgent but which might have significant implications. I do this to give myself space to place things in perspective. And I do this because I’ve learned from Ken Blanchard to wait patiently for the right time. There is always a right time.
A few days later, an opportunity to address the problem walked into my office. A senior person from the President’s office dropped in to see how things were going, and after a few minutes, it just seemed like the right time to bring this up. He was very concerned and offered to approach the President about it. I said that it would probably be a good thing for us to invite the President to visit our office and see this place he was alleged to have disparaged.
Within a day, I had a call from the President’s Executive Assistant to book an appointment with our office! I shared this with the other leaders in the office, one of whom gave me a wide-eyed look and said, “NO! You didn’t invite the President?!” I laughed and said, “You know what they say: keep your friends close and your President closer!”
The President came for coffee and spent about an hour with us. He apologized and clarified that he had not made the comments about us; rather, they were about some of the disconnected old patterns of the university. He said he had made the comments in reference to our past history that we had corrected. It appears the student, perhaps looking for ammunition, had used his comments out of context and misquoted the President.
The President then took time for questions, and really praised our office for our efforts at improving things. We had a great time visiting with him.
In my reflection, what grievous error had I realized I’d made?
- I erred in not promoting the efforts at improving the systems, services, and successes which the Registrar’s Office had made over the past 3 years.
- I erred in overlooking the President in my communication patterns.
- I assumed he had his eyes focused only on the external, and forgot that he would have an impression of the internal, even though he had no direct experience with our office.
What did I learn?
- I learned that when people make, or are accused of making, not-so-nice claims about us, it’s best to address them directly. We could have been very discouraged for a long time thinking that the senior leadership of the university didn’t support us. That just isn’t true and now we heard it directly from the President.
- I learned that personal experience is crucial for true support. We know that 90% of potential students who visit our campus end up attending because they’ve had a good personal experience. Why shouldn’t that be true of the President? It is true.
- My patience was reinforced. Ken Blanchard and the writer of Ecclesiastes is right: there truly is a time and a season for everything under the sun. I didn’t force things, I didn’t react immediately. I gave myself space to think and gain perspective, and that worked.
- Sometimes it might seem nice to fly under the radar and not be noticed, but I’ve learned that’s an excuse to avoid close scrutiny. Close scrutiny will only help us improve – it’s nothing to be afraid of if we take pride in our work.
- But most of all, I learned that I need to be diligent and persistent at marketing internally as well as externally. We have made HUGE strides forward in the past three years, and have improved our systems, processes, and services, with more improvements coming very soon. I need to be the chief story-teller and excitement-generator for our office. That’s one of the jobs of a leader.
Look for more stories soon 🙂